Nuts have long been a holiday party staple. We eat them by the handful even though we try to stay at arm’s length because we fear them for their fat and calorie content.
Relax! This year we’re giving you the go-ahead to go nuts for those nuts.
Way back in the summer of 2003, the Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim for several varieties of nuts. Research suggested that eating 1.5 ounces daily – and following a calorie-controlled diet that was low in saturated fat and cholesterol – “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts were allowed to carry this lofty claim. The research appeared to show that these nuts helped lower blood cholesterol, inflammation and insulin resistance.
A decade later, there’s new evidence to suggest that people who nosh on nuts do live longer, healthier lives.
Nuts = Health
The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine recently detailed findings from two major research studies which included a total of more than 170,000 participants. The findings: both studies linked nut consumption to longevity.
Scientists observed over a 30-year period that people who consumed nuts almost daily lowered their risk of dying by about 20% compared to people who never ate nuts.
Those who ate nuts seven or more times weekly had a 29% lower risk of dying from heart disease – and an 11% lower risk from dying from cancer!
A Harvard School of Public Health study declared nuts to be packed with healthy mono and polyunsaturated fat, and protein and fiber. Researchers also found nuts to be rich with arginine (an amino acid that is linked to heart health), vitamin E, folic acid and potassium.
• Almonds are a good source of calcium.
• Pecans contain a plant sterol recommended for prostate health.
• Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a mineral that has antioxidant properties and may help protect cells from damage.
• Peanuts are rich in folate, a vitamin crucial to human growth.
• An ounce of pistachios have as much potassium as half a large banana.
So, which nuts should you favor? Hmm… there really doesn’t appear to be a top nut! Whether you opt for almonds, walnuts or pistachios, it seems you’ll lower your risk of dying.
It’s a shell of a thing but frequent nut consumers are linked with healthier lifestyle habits, too. Nut eaters exercise more, are less likely to smoke and are less likely to be overweight or obese.
But what about nuts being high in fat?
Well, we know that all fats are not equal – and nuts are good sources of healthy fat. But fat is fat – it has 9 calories per gram, more than double the calories of protein and carbohydrate, which have 4 calories per gram.
So, how can you have your nuts and manage your weight best? By changing how you eat those nuts!
Information from the Pistachio Health Institute cited two preliminary behavioral nutrition studies from Eastern Illinois University.
The first study tested the theory that you may be able fool yourself that you’re full by watching what you eat—literally. It’s easy to grab a handful of nuts and chomp them down, but what happens when you have to take the time to shell those monsters?
In one experiment, the nut eaters were satisfied with less – because it took them longer to eat. Those who had to shell their nuts ate 41% fewer calories when they were served in-shell pistachios versus pre-shelled pistachios.
In the second experiment, student participants who left pistachio shells behind on their desk as they were noshing reduced their calorie consumption by 18% compared to participants whose discarded shells were routinely removed throughout the day. Those empty pistachio shells may have helped them eat less by acting as a “visual cue” to remind them how many they’d eaten. Thirty whole pistachio kernels contain only about 100 calories.
Another bonus: The protein and healthy fat from nuts can help you feel fuller longer.
OK, so research shows that going low fat doesn’t necessarily improve weight loss. In fact, compared to a low-fat diet, more weight was lost on a Mediterranean or low-carb diet. Remember, nut fat is a healthy fat.
The pistachio studies illustrate a very practical strategy. We know that nuts are delicious and it’s so easy to lose track of how many you’re eating, so measure out the portion before you start munching – and be sure to keep those shells in a separate bowl to remind yourself of what you just consumed.
On average, an ounce of shelled nuts ranges from a “skinny” 160 calories for pistachios (approximately 49 kernels) to 200 calories for pecans (approximately 19 halves).
In a nutshell
Eat your favorite nuts roasted, raw, salted or “naked” – they’re all nuggets of good nutrition and a little goes a long way.
Susan Burke March is a registered and licensed dietitian, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. As our eDiets Chief Nutritionist, she promotes the dietary health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide.